Offertory Prayers “Reprint”

Here’s an old article on the offertory prayers I originally wrote for the Anglo-Catholic blog in its heyday. Link. Given the date (January 2010), I was writing in view to speculating what kind of liturgy would be used in the then-future ordinariates. There are some interesting comments, especially from a traditionalist Roman Catholic point of view. The subject tended to get laboured, and the Ordinariate liturgy is now only of curiosity value for me.

Nevertheless, the subject is interesting from a study point of view. I was reminded about having written by the article by an e-mail requesting permission for reproduction – which I gladly granted.

* * *

In view of some amount of controversy about the offertory prayers in the rite of Mass, I thought it would be a good idea to write something on this subject. My primary source is a rather interesting work I have in my library by Fr Paul Tirot OSB, Histoire des prières d’offertoire dans la liturgie romaine du VIIe au XVIe siècle, Rome 1985. Tirot himself refers to a great extent to Jungmann’s Missarum Sollemnia, as I did when working at Fribourg University on the Tridentine codification of the Roman Missal in 1570.

Tirot writes the following (remember, in 1985) as a foreword to his work.

The promulgation of the Roman Missal of Paul VI, even if it marks a certain and profound rupture with liturgical tradition, does not cancel out interest for the history of the Roman Missal.

This is twenty years before the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the Papacy. We find the implied theme of the hermeneutic of continuity and the possibility of loyally criticising the modern rite. Cardinal Ratzinger had already done so in some of his interviews and books. All I will do here is give an extremely brief overview of Tirot’s work together with a few of the author’s practical conclusions.

From the seventh century, we have very detailed accounts of the ceremonies of the Roman Mass in the Ordines Romani. At that time, the Offertory consisted of a procession to the singing of a psalm. The faithful brought offerings and a part of these (bread and wine) were reserved for consecrating and the rest given to the clergy and the poor. It rather reminds me of the Harvest Thanksgiving we have in English parishes. The oblata were placed on the altar and the Oratio super Oblata was said.

To that very austere ceremony was added other material from Gallican and Hispanic sources, in particular “recommendations” for the offerings of the people in the form of the diptychs, which eventually found their way into the Canon of the Mass (already in its present form before the fifth century). The Offertory Procession became much more solemn from the ninth century in France. After this came the reserving of this procession to clerics, and the practice we have in the Sarum Use of the subdeacon preparing the chalice in a side chapel and bringing the Gifts to the altar.

131 Offertory PrayersThere are no silent offertory prayers in Ordo Romanus I. The Pontiff “bows a little” to the oblata. The first private prayers came in the form of apologies – the priest confessing his sins and unworthiness to offer the Sacrifice. In the Gallican rites, these prayers became very long. Jungmann contrasted this introduction of long apologia prayers to the austerity of the old Roman liturgy. No doubt, Bugnini felt the same way.

The first Suscipe offertory prayers, of Gallican origin, appeared from the eighth century. In the various local missals, they are extremely variable. The Receive, Holy Trinity prayer occurs at different points, whilst offering the bread and wine, or bowing over the oblations having already accomplished the gesture of offering. These prayers multiplied particularly in the Frankish and Germanic territories. The prayer as found in the Sarum, Dominican and many other missals was firmly established by the eleventh century. The prayer was said as the priest offered the host and the chalice together in a single movement.

The In spiritu humilitatis prayer is also very ancient, and is found in various forms in the ninth century. There are also variations in the syntax, as to this day between the Tridentine and Dominican missals. The meaning is identical. You can do quite a lot with a Latin sentence, changing the order of the words – and the meaning is gleaned from the declension of the nouns and conjugation of the verbs.

The formula for the priest washing his hands is also extremely variable, and it is interesting to see the Novus Ordo formula (from Psalm 50 [Vulgate]) suggest the Sarum formula – “Cleanse me, O Lord, from all defilement of soul and body, that I may be clean to fulfil the holy work of God”. The Dominican rite uses the Lavabo inter innocentes verses from Psalm 25, but the extract is shorter than in the later Roman rite. There are many other formulae.

The chalice is prepared variously at the beginning of the Mass (or at the time of the Gradual at High Mass) or just before the offering. The formula for blessing the water and pouring it into the chalice is variable, generally “From this be blessing, for from his side came forth blood and water…”.

The oblata were incensed for the first time in the time of Amalar of Metz. Around 830, in Rome, it was still unknown. After the incensing, also from Gallican inspiration, the oblations were often blessed, but not always. This was sometimes before, sometimes after, the washing of the priest’s hands. The York Use had the Veni Creator sung at this point, almost as a kind of epiclesis. Many of these blessing prayers were similar in content to the epiclesis of the Oriental Churches, asking the Holy Spirit to come down upon the Gifts.

The Orate fratres is very variable, as is its response. It is an invitation to pray the Oratio super oblata or Secret with the priest.

The monasteries had very reserved offertory rites. For example, the Carthusian monks use only the In spiritu humilitatis, the prayer over the gifts and a version of the Orate fratres.

Tirot concludes that the Tridentine (extraordinary Roman) offertory resulted from the fusion of the French and German traditions. Some called this offertory rite a little Canon, but this is an artificial and anachronistic concept.

An interesting practical conclusion emerges for the consideration of the Roman authorities (Congregation for Divine Worship). Particularly, we get from Fr Tirot:

1) As these offertory prayers in historical terms, like the entrance and communion prayers, are prayers of “devotion”, of a private character, and ad libitum sacerdotis:  could one not, during a revision of the Missal of Paul VI, offer a choice of several formulae:

  • the present “blessings”, inspired by Jewish prayers for blessing meals [1969 Novus Ordo],
  • the monastic formula of Cluny, Cîteaux, and La Chartreuse: the In spiritu said bowing and in silence, the oratio super oblata being the only Roman offertory prayer,
  • the French formula: the Suscipe Sancta Trinitas whilst offering the bread and wine, the apologia of In spiritu and the blessing Veni Sanctificator with the character of an epiclesis [Sarum, Dominican, York, etc.],
  • the Rhenan formula: Suscipe sancte Pater, followed by the blessing Sanctificatum for the offering of the bread; and the Offerimus tibi, followed by the benediction oblatum tibi for the offering of the wine [“extraordinary” Roman Missal].

2) It would be fitting for these prayers to be said quietly by the priest, whilst the choir and congregation sing the anthem, or an offertory hymn, finished by the oratio super oblata.

In the same way, the private priest’s prayers at the beginning of Mass can be said quietly whilst the faithful sing the Introit anthem or psalm, finished by the Collect [after the Kyrie and Gloria]. The private communion prayers are already said quietly.

I think this little article should help to put things into perspective. These ideas have been floating around for a while, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Rome will allow this or that variation to the Order of Mass without for the time being recasting the whole Missal (as ought to be done sometime in the future). Perhaps this can happen in the Book of Divine Worship together with allowing the old Temporal Cycle propers as in the Anglican Missal.

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